2020: Lezmond Mitchell

Add comment August 26th, 2020 Headsman

Although overshadowed by wildfires, hurricanes, political drama, economic collapse, civil unrest, and a goddamned pandemic, a noteworthy federal execution took place on August 26, 2020.

Lezmond Mitchell, the only Native American on federal death row, was killed by lethal injection at Terre Haute, Indiana for murdering 63-year-old Alyce Slim and her nine-year-old granddaughter Tiffany Lee. The offender and both victims were members of the Navajo Nation, and the crimes occurred on the Navajo Reservation in the northeast corner of Arizona.

Mitchell and a companion named Johnny Osringer — underaged, and therefore serving a life sentence instead — were picked up hitchhiking by the victims in 2001. They stabbed Alyce Slim to death when she stopped to let them out, then to murder the terrified little girl in greater privacy, drove her 30 miles into the mountains sitting next to her grandmother’s bloody corpse.

The horrific crime carried with it a problematic jurisdictional question that’s legacy of the continent’s Anglo conquest.

Within their treaty lands, indigenous nations still assert internal sovereignty when it comes to handling criminal offenses — sovereignty that Congress has legislated against by placing some big-ticket crimes like murder and rape under federal jurisdiction.

Neither this arrogation of authority in general nor its application to Mitchell in particular have been embraced by the Navajo Nation, which has advocated against the execution for many years and on the day it occurred issued a statement denouncing it.

The Navajo Nation’s position, from the beginning, was to advocate for the sovereign status of the Nation. Our decision not to accept the death penalty in federal cases remains a Navajo decision, but in this instance the federal government ignored the Navajo Nation. This is an affront to our Nation because we should be the ones to decide these matters. The federal government charged a crime that was added in 1994 to the Federal Death Penalty Act and blindsided the Navajo Nation by using this to sidestep the Navajo Nation’s position.

We have a court system that is fair and just for all persons. We have laws that protect our People. We have brave men and women on our police force to watch over us. Crimes committed on the Navajo Nation are for us to decide. Our judicial and public safety system considers restorative justice in court cases as based on our custom and traditions of hozho’ and k’e. Federal officials may not understand our family connections and our strength in keeping harmony. So, we invite them to meet with us and find an answer to address this important death penalty matter.

The Navajo Nation asked for clemency in Mr. Mitchell’s case in changing his sentence to life in prison without possibility of release. This is the same request supported by U.S. Senators, U.S. House Representatives, Tribal Nations, and tribal organizations. But our collective voice was ignored. We don’t expect federal officials to understand our strongly held traditions of clan relationship, keeping harmony in our communities, and holding life sacred. What we do expect, no, what we demand, is respect for our People, for our Tribal Nation, and we will not be pushed aside any longer.

We thank the many Tribal Nations who supported the Navajo Nation’s stand on sovereignty, and we appreciate the Tribal organization’s letters advocating for tribal sovereignty. We now call on all Tribal Nations and Tribal organizations to begin a dialogue on a respect for tribal sovereignty, respect for all Tribal Nation, and respect for Native Americans. We are moving forward in this fight and we ask all to join us.

Mitchell’s was the fourth federal execution conducted in little more than a month as part of a calculated campaign by Trump administration attorney general William Barr. Prior to the current paroxysm, the United States federal government (as distinct from its 50 states’ separate jurisdictions) had conducted only three executions — all in the early 2000s, most notably Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh — in the past 57 years.

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2020: Daniel Lewis Lee

1 comment July 14th, 2020 Headsman

This morning in Terre Haute, Indiana, like the French guillotine making its way to the western front, America’s twilight men saluted Bastille Day by animating their empire’s creaking machinery on an absurd project to kill one guy to nobody’s edification in the midst of a rolling bloodbath.

Back in 1996, Daniel Lewis Lee traveled from Washington state to Arkansas with fellow white supremacist Chevie Kehoe where they slaughtered a family of three in the course of a robbery aimed at financing a racist enclave in the Pacific Northwest. Gun dealer William Mueller, his wife Nancy, and their eight-year-old daughter Sarah Powell were bound hand and foot and suffocated with plastic bags taped over their heads, before being dumped in a bayou. Kehoe and Lee netted $50,000 in cash and weapons.*

Yet family members of those victims were the most vocal critics of executing Lee.

For one thing, everyone involved in the case, including the prosecuting attorney and trial judge, agrees that Kehoe was the instigator of the crime. But perversely, it was Kehoe who received the lighter sentence. Sometimes this occurs when a wily ringleader turns state’s-evidence against his confederates; in the case at hand, it might have been nothing but the comparative visual affect presented to jurors by the baby-faced Kehoe as compared to the menacing Lee, one-eyed (courtesy of a bar fight) and swastika-tattooed. The two were tried and convicted together in a death case; when the jury returned a life sentence for Kehoe, the U.S. Attorney on the case attempted to withdraw the death notice still pending against Lee, only to be overruled by higher-ups at the Department of Justice.

Earlene Peterson, Nancy Mueller’s mother and Sarah Powell’s grandmother, “believes the jury’s prejudices led to Kehoe and Lee receiving different sentences,” according to a Reason magazine profile.

“Chevie Kehoe was dressed very nicely, like a young businessman, and Daniel Lee was not,” Peterson said, noting that Lee was missing an eye and had a swastika tattooed on his neck. “He looked like an outlaw,” and “was instantly judged the minute he walked into the courtroom,” she says.

And Peterson, joined by several other family members, didn’t want anyone whether businessman or outlaw executed in her name.

Peterson, her granddaughter Monica Veillette, and Kimma Gurel (Nancy Mueller’s sister) sued in federal courts arguing that conducting the execution in the midst of the dangerous COVID-19 outbreak frustrated their right and expressed desire to witness Lee’s execution. But what they would have preferred most of all would have been no execution at all, regardless of COVID; they petitioned President Trump to this same effect.** “For us it is a matter of being there and saying, ‘This is not being done in our name; we do not want this,'” Veillette told the press.

As everyone knows, victims/survivors with an attitude of clemency get no special consideration in the breach from the closure-for-victims crowd. Thus while Attorney General William Barr scheduled Lee’s execution — along with four others — last year to the familiar strains of “We owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system,” his agency defeated these victims’ family members by arguing that their allowance to witness the execution was in fact not any sort of “right” that anyone was “owed.” The first federal execution in 17 years was delayed half a day from its Monday-afternoon schedule by a last-minute judicial injunction that was predictably reversed by the Supreme Court: that issue concerned the lethal injection drug selection.

Peterson, Veillette, and Gurel did not in the end attend the execution, for fear of the coronavirus. Besides being afoot broadly, it was known to have broken out in the Terre Haute federal prison. In fact, one of the execution planners tested positive for COVID-19 just days before the execution and the small viewing chamber reserved for official witnesses makes no allowance for social distancing. (Prison officials and the “Appalachian pagan minister” present to conduct the execution itself also wore no masks, nor did the executed criminal himself.) Considering the short shrift federal authorities have given to protective measures surrounding people who didn’t commit triple homicide, it’s no surprise that the pandemic was also no obstacle, with Barr making the Orwellian assurance — which doubles as a distillation of his philosophy of governance — that his team could “carry out these executions without being at risk.”

* Lee later also pipe-bombed the Spokane, Washington, city hall.

** Lee’s was the first execution to proceed on Donald Trump’s say-so.

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2020: Walter Barton, coronavirus milestone

Add comment May 19th, 2020 Headsman

Missouri graced America with her first coronavirus pandemic execution tonight.

Aptly emblematic of a moment where crumbling institutions reveal the post-Cold War empire’s far-advanced rot, Walter “Arkie”* Barton’s death on the gurney culminated three decades of shambolic re-prosecutions, reliant in the end for their victory on nothing but the unequal strength of the prosecutor’s office and the willingness of courts to certify junk science as real evidence.

The victim of the murder was the 81-year-old manager of Riverview Trailer Park, where Barton lived. He was friends with that woman, Gladys Kuehler, and visited her the afternoon of her murder; later, he together with Kuehler’s granddaughter and a neighbor discovered the woman’s body. She’d been sexually assaulted and horribly knifed, slashed and stabbed more than 50 times.

The key bits of evidence convincing jurors — several of whom submitted affidavits during Barton’s clemency stage regretting their findings — that Barton had been the author of this savage attack were essentially two:

  1. Blood-spatter expert testimony that a drop of blood on Barton’s shirt that was a DNA match for Gladys Kuehler had arrived there via a “high-impact” splat at velocity –i.e., flying fast off the murder weapon. This stuff is humbug of the same genus as the burn pattern pseudoscience that wrongly executed Cameron Willingham, and more importantly it’s conspicuously silent on why Barton, who didn’t change or wash his clothes, wasn’t ribboned with high-impact bloodstains from his slasher-film murder. His own hypothesis that he picked up a spot of blood at the time he helped discover the body is at least as compelling an explanation.
  2. The ubiquitous jailhouse snitch, behind bars for a list of frauds as long as your arm, to whom Walter Barton, that fool, just spontaneously confessed even while otherwise maintaining his innocence to everyone else who would listen. The use and abuse of these finks, whose comforts are directly controlled by one party in the adversarial hearing, is a factor in a great many wrongful convictions.

Aggressively prosecuted by an attorney general — Jay Nixon, subsequently Missouri’s governor — more politically ambitious than forensically rigorous over the span of no fewer than five trials, then upheld by a split 4-3 vote in the state’s highest court, this met the emptiest formal standards of technical sufficiency to take the life of Arkie Barton, a sort of hollow malevolent pantomime of a functioning liberal democracy’s justice system.

Barton’s was just the sixth U.S. execution of 2020, and the first since COVID-19 torpedoed everything in mid-March. The last previous U.S. execution was that of Nathaniel Woods in Alabama, on March 5. Various states have delayed scheduled execution dates during the 11 intervening weeks, but those and others loom on the dockets as states push to reopen once it’s semi-safe to operate the machinery of death.

* Because he hailed originally from Arkansas.

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2020: The Nirbhaya Gang Rapists

Add comment March 20th, 2020 Headsman

Akshay Thakur, 31, Pawan Gupta, 25, Vinay Sharma, 26, and Mukesh Singh, 32, were hanged at Delhi’s Tihar Jail today — four of the six* widely hated perpetrators of in infamous 2012 gang rape.

On December 16, 2012, a 23-year-old physiotherapy student and call center worker named Jyoti Singh was returning from the cinema with a male friend on a private bus in a South Delhi neighborhood when the five other passengers plus the driver sealed the doors and assaulted them. After the man was knocked out with an iron rod, the five passengers turned on Singh and horrifically gang-raped her while the driver continued to steer the bus, even using a wheel jack to sodomize the struggling woman. By the time it was finished, and both victims tossed out of the moving vehicle, she’d suffered “massive damage to her genitals, uterus and intestines.” (Per medical examiners.) She succumbed several days later after desperate surgeries, but she lived long enough to identify her attackers, who were being arrested by the very next day. (Her male friend, Avanindra Pandey, survived the attack with broken ribs.)

The victim became publicly known as “Nirbhaya”, meaning “fearless”, owing to laws against doxxing sex crime victims, but her parents revealed her identity in the media in 2015. “We want the world to know her real name,” her father told British media. “My daughter didn’t do anything wrong, she died while protecting herself. I am proud of her. Revealing her name will give courage to other women who have survived these attacks. They will find strength from my daughter.”

Instantly iconic, the case gestated huge public protests against endemic sexual violence, and allegedly contributed to a massive decline in tourism by women costing India billions of dollars. The prosecutions were naturally fast-tracked by a judiciary under intense public pressure, and Delhi police handed down internal punishments to officers for failing to prevent the crime when it emerged that the crime-van had been used to rob another passenger earlier that same night. The seven-year span from crime to execution is relative lightning speed for a country which in recent times has only rarely enforced death sentences. But comparative timetables were of no comfort to Nirbhaya’s parents, who have been publicly implacable on the matter of punishment throughout.

“We all have waited so long for this day,” her mother said upon news of the men’s execution. “Today is a new dawn for daughters of India. The beasts have been hanged.”

This case has been the subject of considerable international commentary, most controversially a BBC documentary titled India’s Daughter (often available on YouTube despite its copyright) which includes interview footage with one of the now-hanged defendants attributing the attack to Jyoti Singh’s “indecency”. The film is still banned in India as of this writing.

* Besides the four executed, a fifth man, the driver Ram Singh, was found hanged in pretrial detention — either suicide or murder — and a sixth was underage. The latter has long been released from his juvenile sentence; he’s reportedly working as a cook, ostracized by his family.

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2020: Nathaniel Woods, #SaveNate

Add comment March 5th, 2020 Headsman

Nathaniel Woods was controversially executed by lethal injection at William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Alabama, tonight at 9:01 p.m. U.S. Central Time.

Woods and Kerry Spencer — a co-defendant who is awaits execution for the same affair — were in a Birmingham trap house when officers Charles Bennett, Harley Chisholm III, Carlos Owen and Michael Collins arrived to serve a warrant. Of the four, only Collins would outlive the deadliest day in Birmingham police history.

While the facts of the case are contested, one that is universally agreed is that Kerry Spencer, not Nathaniel Woods, killed all three officers. Woods met them but as the police were in the process of taking him into custody, Spencer — just waking up from the commotion, he claimed — burst onto the scene firing an SKS.

“When I looked to the side, there was two police officers trying to train their guns on me so I opened fire with the fucking rifle. I wasn’t trying to get shot, period. I got a rifle in my hand. They’re going to shoot me,” Spencer told CNN. “You point a gun at me, bitch, I’m fixing to shoot.”

Woods said he simply fled from an unexpected crossfire, and Spencer agrees. “Nate is absolutely innocent,” he said. “That man didn’t know I was going to shoot anybody just like I didn’t know I was going to shoot anybody that day, period.” Alabama prosecutors characterized Woods as conspiring with Spencer to lure the cops into an ambush.

Woods and Spencer not only deny this, but developed an explosive appellate argument — never probed by any court — that the slain policemen were hassling the place as part of a routine police shakedown racket, to which the apartment’s owner had fallen behind on payments, and intimidated that owner out of providing exculpatory evidence.

But at a minimum, Woods’s execution presented the disturbing spectacle of a non-triggerman being punished for actions to which he might have been little other than a bystander. The #SaveNate campaign garnered a wide and fruitless call for clemency compassing civil rights leaders …

… celebrities …

… and at least one relative of a victim.

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2019: Wei Wei

Add comment December 26th, 2019 Headsman

Japan this morning hanged a Chinese man for a 2003 robbery-murder.

With two other Chinese nationals, Wei Wei robbed and murdered a clothier in Fukuoka Prefecture, along with his wife and two young daughters ages 11 and 8 — scoring ¥37,000 in the process. All four were strangled or drowned, and eventually discovered dumped in Hakata Bay, weighted down with dumbbells.

According to the Japan Times,

The two accomplices fled to China where they were arrested. One of them was executed there in 2005 and the other was given a life sentence.

Wei’s death sentence was finalized in 2011. Prior to the murder, the three had been involved in various robberies.

In a statement released on the same day, international human rights group Amnesty International’s Japanese arm lambasted the execution of Wei, noting that it went ahead while he was seeking a retrial.

“Appealing for a retrial is part of the processes stipulated in the criminal procedure law,” the group said.

“They should have begun a process for suspending the execution while he was demanding a retrial. Failing to do so runs counter to the international human rights law.”

Wei Wei is reportedly the first foreign national hanged in Japan since 2009

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2019: Ali Hakim al-Arab and Ahmad al-Mullali, Bahrain opposition

Add comment July 27th, 2019 Headsman

The Gulf state Bahrain shot three men this morning, including two young Shia activists whose condemnation became a worldwide cause celebre. (The third man was an unnamed individual convicted of killing an imam.)


Left: Ali Hakim al-Arab, right: Ahmad al-Mullali

The majority-Shia island, home to American and British military bases, has been ruled by the Sunni House of Khalifa since 1783. In those two-plus centuries, this dynasty has achieved Croesus-like wealth for itself and disproportionately directed the country’s vast oil revenues to a class of predominantly Sunni elites.

This simmering grievance exploded during the Arab Spring era in the form of a 2011 uprising; though these protests were violently squelched by troops requisitioned from Bahrain’s allied Gulf petrokingdoms Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, protests and opposition have continued ever since.

Many of the political prisoners arrested in this crackdown or subsequently were housed in Jau (or Jaw) Prison, notorious for overcrowding and torture. This prison in turn has become the target of numerous actual and attempted jailbreaks in the 2010s, with outside supporters trying to help imprisoned Shia dissidents escape.

The most daring and deadly of these was the January 1, 2017 raid by armed regime opponents that (temporarily) freed ten prisoners. The gunmen, who reportedly prepped for the operation by scouting the prison and environs with drones, slew a police officer during the escape.

Throughout the 2010s Bahrain has met every exertion of its opposition by heightened repression. Just weeks after this jailbreak, it extended military tribunals to civilian cases, a chilling threat to every dissident. And it made a massive example of the people who were allegedly involved in the Jau Prison outrage, both the escapees and the outside activists — all bracketed together under the expansive rubric of “terrorism”. (Bahrain judges have ruled that mere “moral pressure” can supply the violence necessary to qualify an act as terrorism.)

The result was a mass trial of 60 alleged jailbreak participants. There were two acquittals and 56 sub-capital sentences; Ali Hakim al-Arab and Ahmad al-Mullali earned the headlines with death sentences for killing an off-duty officer (not the one shot during the jailbreak). Most of those convicted also had their citizenship stripped into the bargain.

Both men submitted “confessions” under heavy torture, including beatings, electric shocks, having nails ripped out, and possibly even moral persuasion.

Human rights organizations around the world raised alarms yesterday with the ominous news that the men’s families had been summoned to visit their doomed relations at Jau Prison; in London, an activist scaled the Bahrain embassy to unveil a banner demanding clemency.

“One of Bahrain’s darkest days,” said Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy director Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei in a statement. “It appears that the Bahraini government planned this meticulously, timing the executions to coincide with US, EU and UK legislative recesses in order to avoid international scrutiny. These crimes only happened because of the unconditional support lent to dictator Hamad by Washington and London.”

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2018: The Sultan of Coins

Add comment November 14th, 2018 Headsman

Iran today hanged two men for financial crimes.

Vahid Mazloumin, dubbed “the Sultan of Coins”, was arrested in July with two tons of gold coins in his possession. He was condemned with accomplice Mohammad-Esmaeil Qassemi of comprising a “smuggling gang”.

Iran’s currency has collapsed in recent months ahead of the bad-faith U.S. nuclear sanctions, leading Iranians to rush for precious metals.

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2018: Shoko Asahara and six Aum Shinrikyo followers, for the Tokyo sarin attack

Add comment July 6th, 2018 Headsman

Shoko Asahara and six of his followers in the Aum Shinrikyo cult were hanged today in Japan as authors of one of the most infamous terrorist attacks in recent history: the sarin attack on the Tokyo subway of 1995.

Thirteen people died and several thousand more were injured when members of this millenial sect deposited punctured bags of homemade liquid sarin on multiple rail lines of Tokyo’s subway during Monday rush hour.

It was only one of several gas attacks perpetrated by Aum Shinrikyo during the 1990s; just nine months previous, they had killed nine people in a sarin attack in Matsumoto. But it is by far the most notorious. Images of stricken commuters, blinded and suffocating under the nerve agent’s influence, sprawled on the transit platforms or outside them shocked orderly Japan in 1995, especially so since it came fast on the heels of the devastating January 1995 Kobe earthquake.

These comprised “two of the gravest tragedies in Japan’s postwar history,” according to Haruki Murakami’s Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche. “It is no exaggeration to say that there was a marked change in the Japanese consciousness ‘before’ and ‘after’ these events.” Japanese Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa struck a similar chord in announcing the hangings today: “These crimes … plunged people not only in Japan but in other countries as well into deadly fear and shook society to its core.”

Its mastermind Shoko Asahara, the first man executed this morning, emerged soon thereafter into public view a bedraggled and half-blind fanatic, almost the picture of an agent of chaos. Shockingly, his cult had been able to thrive in the early 1990s thanks in part to murdering an attorney who was investigating Aum Shinrikyo back in 1989.

Beyond the seven hanged on July 6, 2018, six additional members of the cult still remain under sentence of death in Japan for the Tokyo subway atrocity.

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2018: Zahid Iqbal

Add comment April 10th, 2018 Headsman

Via UrduPoint.com. A different report give the spur to the murder not as a “minor dispute” but a “robbery bid”.

FAISALABAD, (UrduPoint / Pakistan Point News — 10th Apr, 2018): A condemned prisoner was executed in Central Jail Faisalabad on Tuesday. According to Prisons Department, Zahid Iqbal had murdered three persons Rehana, Anayat Ali and Haris over a minor dispute in 2005 and the session court had awarded him death sentence on three counts.

The apex court also upheld the decision of the trial court whereas the President also turned down his mercy appeal. After the rejection of mercy petition, death warrants were issued against the condemned prisoner Zahid Iqbal and the court fixed April 10 for implementation on his execution. Later, the body was handed over to his heirs after completing necessary formalities.

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